Research Capacity and TEL

What is research capacity? Research capacity and TEL SPNECRE Tens of things

What has emerged from the work of the TEL Research Capacity strand as it has evolved is that building capacity presents particular challenges but also has a wide repertoire of practice upon which to draw, from across the ‘contributing’ disciplines.

The SPNECRE project was initially envisaged as addressing capacity issues across the whole of educational research (and some of the findings presented here are quite generic) but this has provided a useful baseline against which to assess the situation in TEL research.  In the ‘Ten Practices‘ section of this site, we have begun to show how these generic practices (keeping research diaries, working collaboratively and so on) may manifest themselves, or present particular challenges or opportunities in TEL.

Looking at TEL more generally, we can point to particular areas that are worthy of further exploration (and which will be the focus of our work in 2010-2011:

Disciplinary Differences and Capacity Building

  • The issues highlighted by McIntyre and McIntyre in 1999 which discuss the differences between educational research and social science are more obvious still when educational researchers work alongside computer and information scientists and engineers – and when each of these groups is addressing audiences across conventional disciplinary boundaries
  • The cross-disciplinary nature of TEL research means that the kinds of themes we have identified need to be explored in some detail.  TEL projects provide an arena in which this exploration can take place, but this demands that researchers are prepared to contribute to reflective activities and to examine their own practice as well as that of others.  This involves a conceptualisation of cross-disciplinary working as a ‘culture of inquiry’ rather than as teams solving well-defined problems
  • The nature of research capacity building may be seen in different terms by different disciplinary groups.  Just as these may have different research cultures, they will also have different research training cultures, which may attach different levels of importance to particular experiences, practices and competences

Early Career Researchers

  • Early career researchers in TEL have diverse backgrounds, interests and experience and in many cases they are keen to maintain the distinctiveness of their career trajectory.  This means that research capacity initiatives and activities need to be ‘embedded’ but also capable of supporting and celebrating ‘difference’
  • At the same time, early career researchers who wish to ‘discipline hop’ or who define themselves as ‘interdisciplinary researchers’ have to learn to deal with new (and changing) research landscapes.  As the TEL programme develops, it will be important for us to understand how researchers deal with these intersections and complex identities.  There are some analogies (for example with professionals who become academic researchers) but the specific challenges that face researchers in TEL need to be better understood
  • From the perspective of the early career researchers themselves, these challenges are manifested in questions about where to publish and present work; how to locate oneself in departmental and faculty structures; and potential future employment.  The impending Research Excellence Framework, in which computer sciences and education are likely to be assessed in very different ways, is also a concern for early career researchers who want to ensure that they are ‘returned’ and positively assessed as research active staff

Building Research Capacity in TEL

  • One distinctive aspect of TEL research cultures is that use of online technologies (for personal productivity, collaboration, communication and dissemination) is already well ‘embedded’ in practice – in contrast to other areas of educational research – and so capacity building initiatives which use online environments are more likely to succeed in TEL than might otherwise be the case
  • Early career researchers are frequently those who put into practice the commitments to cross-disciplinary working envisioned in research proposals; it is they who are responsible for the translation of general principles and designs into the specificities of research practice.  In the absence of established and shared normative practices, much of the emerging ‘collective capacity’ in TEL may derive from the activities of early career researchers themselves, and this may demand innovative approaches to the cumulation and sharing of knowledge about research

As Eade’s model of capacity building (here) suggests, it will be necessary to consider what the relationships are between individual capacity as a ‘ends’ and collective capacity as a set of reflective and critical ‘processes’ – a research culture, in effect – and also between the capacities of researchers and research ‘users’ in education, and in computer and information sciences.

In the coming two years, we intend to further explore these issues, with the dual aim of developing a high-level model of research capacity building in TEL and identifying the specific ‘embedded practices’ and innovations that emerge as early career researchers and others engage with novel research questions, develop innovative research approaches and contribute to emerging research cultures.

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